The Washington Wizards have been dealing with issues for years. Point guard was never one of them – until now.
Counting the games missed this year due to various injuries, including a torn Achilles, John Wall will miss about 1.5 seasons. When he returns, Wall will be 30 years old – and at that point, coming off a career-altering injury, it’s unclear whether even he will be the answer for the team at the position moving forward.
Time won’t stop for the Wizards, though, and they have to remain competitive without their all-star point guard (although critics will
correctly argue that “remaining competitive” will do more damage than good).
Tomas Satoransky, by default, has replaced Wall in the starting lineup and has largely done a decent job given the circumstances. Before this season, Satoransky started a combined 33 games in two years and played various roles, ranging from the primary backup point guard to checking in for Otto Porter at small forward.
Washington has enjoyed Satoransky’s versatility and efficiency – he’s making 50 percent of his shot attempts and over 41 percent of his threes in 38 starts.
But through no fault of his own, Satoransky is on the wrong side of a mismatch virtually every night. The NBA is in the golden age of point guards and there’s not a day of the week he’ll have a night off. And while Satoransky is competent and capable, when the Russell Westbrooks and Stephen Currys of the world are in town, the Wizards are almost always at a disadvantage.
Scott Brooks has attempted to mitigate the point guard problem by doing away with the traditional notions of the position. Wall’s role as a ball-dominant guard has been taken over by Bradley Beal, whose usage rate (27.6) is on par with all of the shoot-first guards in the league. Beal, who’s grown into Washington’s first option, touches the ball about 76 times a game – about the same as Kyrie Irving and more than Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Still, to run an effective offense, the Wizards need more than two players on the court who can create. Brooks has given Jabari Parker the freedom to run the offense, and while he’s shown flashes of his ball-handling ability, he’s turned the ball over 3 times a game in Washington.
Asking Beal to carry the offensive load while playing a league-high 37.6 minutes per game is not only unfair to Beal, but it’s unsafe and could cause injury.
The season is almost over, the trade deadline has come and gone, and the Wizards will be stuck with this problem this summer, when more options – albeit complicated ones – will open up.
Satoransky will become a restricted free agent and all signs point to the Wizards wanting to keep him around. To do that, Washington will have to raise his salary from the $3.13 million he earned this season.
Wall’s supermax contract will kick in and Dwight Howard will presumably opt into his $5.6 player option, putting the Wizards at $89.1 million with just Wall, Howard, Troy Brown Jr., and Ian Mahinmi on the roster. The cap minimum for next season will be $109 million – a number the Wizards will easily reach if they end up re-signing Satoransky, Bobby Portis, Trevor Ariza, and perhaps Jeff Green, Thomas Bryant and Parker.
That means, the Wizards can do a few things: 1) acknowledge that they should have traded Ariza/Green at the deadline and allow them to walk this summer, creating more room to work with; 2) run it back with the same roster and hope that this time things will be different.
History points to the Wizards probably trying again with Satoransky and Beal as the primary creators, and banking on Brown becoming more of a steady contributor off the bench.
The team’s cap situation and Wall’s eventual return will make it more difficult for Washington to find a reasonable price for Satoransky this coming summer. The Czech guard will undoubtedly garner interest from other teams in the league - none of which need his services as much as Washington does. That need, however, could be temporary. The Wizards will have to balance their need for Satoransky in the immediate against Wall returning and presumably playing starter’s minutes again. Paying a backup point guard upwards of $9-10 million annually when the starter is super-maxed is a situation the Wizards might not avoid - but again, a situation that could become burdensome soon after the contract is signed.
Another less-likely option exists for Washington – and depending on how serious they are about being mediocre – it could become more likely towards the draft, when teams become active trade partners.
Washington had reportedly inquired about Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley this past trade deadline. Conley, 31, is one of the highest paid players in the league and will make $32 million next season and $34.5 million in 2020-21. He will garner interest around the NBA from the few teams still needing to fill their point guard voids, and it would not be surprising if the Wizards throw their hats into the mix again.
The Conley scenario, like all the others, comes with its own issues.
Doling out $70 million for two point guards isn’t a pill any team would swallow, including the Wizards. To acquire Conley, the Wizards would likely have to convince the Grizzlies - or a third team - to take on Wall’s contract. Wall’s value is at an all-time low and teams won’t consider taking his contract unless they get something of real value - like an unprotected first-round pick. Washington has made this sort of move in the past, though.
A team like the Grizzlies might consider moving Conley for Wall’s contract if this year’s unprotected pick was attached to the deal, but making such a move would almost certainly come back to bite Washington, just as the Randy Foye-Mike Miller deal did. Trading a top-seven pick to dump Wall’s contract and acquire Conley, just for the sake of returning to playoff contention, isn’t a prudent move, but it’s one the Wizards - given their history - would probably consider.
The team might also have enough wiggle room to take a flier on someone like Isaiah Thomas or Jeremy Lin – both of whom have dealt with injuries, but have experience playing at a high level as starters.
None of these options are particularly attractive, but this is the situation Washington’s brass has created for themselves. Waiting another year and hoping Wall returns to All-Star form post-Achilles surgery seems like the decision the Wizards will make – but it’s not a definite answer to the team’s point guard problem, which could remain far longer than Wall’s eventual return.